Christmas is more than just one day of the year. The rhythms of the American commercial year give the Christmas season fully one month out of 12. I know this at least from the music coming out of the gas pump.
For Christians of an evangelistic bent, this means a natural and expanded opportunity to witness for the hope that is within us. Christmas cards used to be a way of handing out tracts in a socially acceptable way, but they’ve gone the way of the postage stamp. Car magnets proclaiming “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season” bumper stickers are more protest than witness. Anger and resentment are not far below the surface. Returning a cashier’s “Happy holidays” with a warm “And a merry Christmas to you” is a friendlier, subtler, and more personal way of making the same point.
Then there are Handel’s Messiah sings, neighborhood caroling, and, of course, the more fully attended Christmas service at church—and I raise my wassail to them all. They are inherently good and pleasing to God. But I have never heard of anyone giving more serious practical attention to Christ as a result of these activities (with the possible exception of me).
Actually, I appreciate all of these testimonies to the gospel that arrived among us at Bethlehem. But as Christmas has become overwhelmingly a frantic spendfest of consumerism, just being of another spirit—calmly, contentedly, and noticeably—could be a powerful witness, especially if it were to characterize most Christian communities. I suggest three simple goals:
- Calm down. Consuming the latest and what’s cool is not the chief end of man. We have bodies, so consume we must. But try walking through Christmas the way a middle-aged man walks through a mall: “I don’t need any of this stuff!”
- Scale down. Buy less stuff for fewer people. Your kids don’t need to be showered with gifts. Lowering their self-absorbed expectations would be one of the greatest gifts you could give them. Organize a gifting circle for the wider family. (“You have Uncle Frank this year. He likes pistachios.”) And if there is a wider circle that simply must receive your thoughtful blessing, consider the small-scale, homemade touch. I once worked at a boarding school in Iowa where the teachers were paid quite modestly. So they made little treat packages—perhaps cookies or chocolate-covered pretzels done up in bags and bows—and handed them out. They were stress-free and gratefully received.
- Slow down. When I was a teen, it came to repulse me that Christmas morning was a fast frenzy of flying wrapping paper. So the Innes family geared down the gift opening. We would take turns picking someone’s gift from under the tree and handing it to that person. This made giving as much a focus as receiving, and the joy of others as much our concern as our own delight in the gifts we received. And we received gifts then as gifts, as tokens of love, not just as portable tape players and bathrobes.
Perhaps as consumerism goes out of our Christmases, Christ will come in and make His presence known to those who know us.